We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be.
Those words were spoken by Sir Winston Churchill to the House of Common in 1940. Those words had power. Those words united the British people in their battle against Nazi aggression. Carmine Gallo, in his book Talk Like Ted, states, “Powerful, well-crafted words have a way of stirring deep emotion in all of us.”
There are numerous rhetorical devices when used effectively and in moderation will make what we say land with greater impact and stick in the minds of our audience. That is what we want, so let’s talk about how to do that.
Repeat yourself for affect
In the above example, Churchill employed anaphora, which involves repeating the same word or clause at the beginning of successive clauses or sentences. In the full speech, Churchill repeated “we shall fight” seven times. Martin Luther King Jr. in his 1963 address in Washington repeated “I have a dream” five times. Poignant and unique circumstances lend themselves to such bold use, but for most of our presentations repeating a word or phrase three times is the sweet spot.
This or any other rhetorical device looses its effectiveness if it is used too frequently or appears forced. To get a handle on using anaphora, review your next talk and identify a key theme you would like to emphasize. Choose a simple construction to make your point, and repeat that construction three times. When delivering it ensure you enunciate the repeated words and adequately pause so that the anaphora is highlighted.
Lisa B. Marshall provides this teaching illustration of anaphora:
Because of your hard work sales were up 10% this quarter. Because of your hard work widget sales were up by 3% and doohickey sales were up by 4%. Because of your hard work, we retained our market leadership. We appreciate that hard work! Thanks!”
Say the opposite to make a point
That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.
Lots of us recognize these words by Neil Armstrong, fewer of us recognize his words are an example of antithesis. This rhetorical device makes use of a contrasting word, phrase, or sentence to balance out the original proposition.
Antithesis need not be reserved for moon-walking moments but can also find a place in every-day presentations. For example, Steve Jobs said:
It’s not about money. It’s about the people you have, how you’re led, and how much you get it.
Start looking for antithesis in the material you read. If you find an example you like, trying reworking it to suit your own context.
Use what you like, and like what you use
My subtitle is a chiasmus. That rhetorical device involves two phrases in which the second phrase loosely reverses the word order of the first. It is the symmetry of the construction that the brain finds appealing and engaging.
The parallel nature of the chiasmus is key, but don’t fret that it has to be exact. Plus remember that although word order is reversed, the thought doesn’t have to be. Here is an example of loose symmetry where the idea is the same in both phrases: “Ole King Cole was a merry old soul, and a merry old soul was he.”
To sound like a nag, don’t overdue it’s use, maybe one per talk, and then only if it adds some ‘punch’.
What is your go-to rhetorical device? Does it add value to your presentation?